Louisiana Lifts Patient Cap That Could Have Sunk Its Medical Cannabis Program
The state originally limited each doctor to 100 medical marijuana patients, a restriction that would have left nearly 100,000 qualifying patients unable to access their medicine.
Published on September 18, 2018

Louisiana regulators just removed a cap on the total number of patients each physician is allowed to recommend medical marijuana to, rescuing the state's entire program from certain failure. 

The state's original medical marijuana law limited each physician registered with the program to only issuing MMJ recommendations to 100 patients each. To date, only 47 doctors have registered with the program, limiting the total number of patients to 4,700

Earlier this year, the state added six new qualifying conditions, bringing the estimated number of eligible patients to around 100,000, leaving around 95,000 patients with no legal way to access their medicine.

Dr. Victor Chou, one of the first doctors to register with the state's MMJ program, told The Times-Picayune that he hit his patient cap two weeks after opening his clinic, and now has “a waiting list of 700 patients.” In August, licensed cultivators planted the state's first crop of legal weed, but the arbitrary patient limit has raised serious doubts about whether these businesses could even turn a profit serving such a small pool of customers. 

At this week's meeting of the state Board of Medical Examiners, regulators voted 8-1 to resolve the situation by removing the cap entirely. "If we're going to treat this as a drug or medication, then the physician should be responsible in the physician/patient relationship to treat that patient appropriately through his scope of process," Dr. Roderick Clark, vice-president of the board, told the Associated Press. "We already have rules about that. We have laws about that." 

The board also voted 5-4 to remove a restriction mandating that medical cannabis patients visit their doctor every 90 days to keep their cannabis recommendations current. Jacob Irving, a registered patient diagnosed with cerebral palsy, told the board that these restrictions interfered with his legal right to use medical marijuana. "I understand there is not a lot of data, but I am trying to exercise my statutorily granted rights," he said at the meeting, according to The Times-Picayune. "These are limitations that are being placed between myself and my physician. Having to go in every 90 days, as a young professional, is inconvenient for me." 

At the same board meeting, parents and guardians of children suffering from autism spectrum disorders pressed officials to reverse a rule requiring them to see a pediatric specialist in order to receive medical marijuana recommendations. Darilyn Schieffler, a grandmother of three children with autism, said that she had reached out to many doctors registered with the state program, but none were willing to take on pediatric patients. 

"There is new research that these kids can be helped with medical marijuana," Schieffler told the board, according to The Times-Picayune. "These kids need help. There are a lot of them out there who are not being controlled with the medications."

Chris Moore
Chris Moore is a New York-based writer who has written for Mass Appeal while also mixing records and producing electronic music.
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